Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Did I miss Denny Hastert's public vote of confidence in Tom DeLay?

The DCCC blog notes that Sen. Lincoln Chafee has now publicly called on the bug man to explain himself (or some such meaningless paraphrastic remark). This suggests a different possible role for the bug man, even a new function he can serve for the GOP: that of a ready-made issue for any Republican from the Northeast who needs a poster boy for Republican corruption against whom to define themselves and highlight their independence. Of course, that may sound a bit more like a Democratic issue. And you're probably right. But I'm trying to help the best I can.

Chris Shays' two Republican colleagues from Connecticut -- Reps. Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson -- both go finger in the wind on DeLay.

While Shays says DeLay should go, reports the AP, the "state's other two GOP moderates said it's too soon to make such a judgment."

Since the question is whether the Majority Leader should resign, that's rather less than a vote of confidence.

(ed.note: I have no doubt the Democrats will be hammering Rob Simmons for a hundred different reasons over the next 18 months. And good for them. But though it may not be worth much, this is one case where I don't think I'll be joining in. Whatever else you can say about the congressman from eastern Connecticut, he played a small but important role torpedoing Social Security phase-out.)

Genuine, certified nutcase. James Dobson compares the "men in white robes, the Ku Klux Klan" to the "black-robed men" on the Supreme Court.

You can hear the replay of the show here -- advance to timestamp 22:52.

First they came for Spongebob ...

(ed.note: Thanks to TPM Reader KS for previewing this drivel on our behalf.)

If you're following the Bolton hearings, Steve Clemons' The Washington Note will certainly be the go-to site.

I'm just waiting to see if Sen. Chafee is concerned that Bolton was the guy who pretty much single-handedly resurrected the Niger uranium monkey-business at the State Department.

Another interesting dynamic is how many key Social Security switch-hitters are also high on the list of cash recipients from Tom DeLay. Perhaps the best example is young Rep. Mike Ferguson (R) of New Jersey, the biggest DeLay money recipient in Congress, who clocked in at a cool $42,403.

On Social Security, Ferguson is a first class bamboozler. He says his "principles on Social Security are clear: he opposes privatizing Social Security." On the other hand, he supports private accounts.

When President Bush brought the Bamboozlepalooza Tour to his district on March 4th, Ferguson's spokesperson Abby Bird said "The congressman still has a lot of questions that he's looking to get answered about the plans and proposals that are being talked about to strengthen Social Security." Ferguson, she said, thought private accounts were "part of the solution," but not the whole answer.

Ferguson repaid DeLay when it came to the DeLay Rule since he not only apparently supported the Rule but he even went so far as to lie about it to his constituents. In a November 19th, 2004 to a constituent asking how he voted on the DeLay rule, Ferguson claimed that the House Republican Conference "unanimously approved" the DeLay Rule, which is of course false. If it was approved unanimously why do Chris Shays and a couple dozen others say they voted against it?

In the letter Ferguson also went on to repeat the DeLay talking points blaming DeLay's problems on a runaway prosecutor from Texas. The DeLay Rule was needed, he says, because "without the new rule, partisan or self-serving district attorney could threaten or disrupt committee chairman or elected leaders in the House."

Whether all of Ferguson's ridiculousness will weaken him in 2006 is hard to say. He won solidly in 2002 (58%) and 2004 (57%).

How long before we hear Hastert make a clear show of support for the embattled DeLay?

It's always fascinating to see how a news meme migrates through the nation's dense ganglia of headline writers and copy editors. Rep. Chris Shays' (R) call for DeLay to resign is not that unexpected, for reasons we'll discuss momentarily. And Rick Santorum's comments on the Stephanopoulos show weren't quite as harsh in their totality as they read in the headlines.

The whole quote was ...

I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves. But from everything I've heard, again, from the comments and responding to those, is everything he's done was according to the law. Now you may not like some of the things he's done. That's for the people of his district to decide, whether they want to approve that kind of behavior or not. But as far as the focus on him, I think clearly, when you have a leader of Tom DeLay's passion and Tom DeLay's effectiveness, you have a media that's very much going after him and tracking him and dogging him and trying to find what they can about him.

Still, Santorum's no fool. So he knew how those remarks would play in this volatile climate. For all the padding, the bottom line subtext is revealed in the first two sentences and into the third. <$Ad$> In so many words, Santorum says that the bugman is a sleaze, even if he may not have been so sloppy as to violate the law. And DeLay has to mount the pulpit before his constituents, confess his sleazy ways and hope they forgive him.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement and certainly out of step with the Bugman cult of personality David Keene, et. al. are trying to gin up.

("Bugman today, Bugman tomorrah, Bugman forevah.")

What I'm wondering is whether Chris Shays is a leading indicator in the judgment he seems to have made. Shays may be outspoken and independent. (After all, he spoke up about the DeLay Rule before it was cool.) But he ain't stupid. And I think his remarks yesterday and today, dropped like a big water balloon down on to the Sunday shows, reflects a judgment on his part that he can survive or DeLay can, but maybe not the both of them.

At a minimum his political survival now seems closely tied to define himself by his opposition to DeLay and the ultras in the House GOP caucus.

In the article in yesterday's Greenwhich Time on Shays' townhall meeting in which he called DeLay an embarrassment, this passage appeared ...

Town resident John Howard, 39, said he has supported Shays in the past and knows that the congressman is not a defender of DeLay. Even so, Howard said, he wouldn't continue to support Shays if he voted to keep DeLay in power.

"I was very proud of you for standing up to the Republican caucus," Howard said. "However, you do vote for the Republican leadership in Congress -- and you must know that you have a lot of constituents, like myself, who deeply respect you, and agree with you on many different issues -- but I can't vote for a congressperson who would vote to keep Tom DeLay in power. You must understand that he's a liability for you."

Shays had a pretty close call in November. The woman who gave him a run for his money is, I suspect, going to run against him again. And he's already showing signs of wilting in his support for private accounts. In swing districts in the Northeast next year it's hard to believe there won't be a strong anti-House majority tide. And the most obvious way for him to avoid getting swept up in that is to make himself the Republican who stood up to Tom DeLay.

I'm not saying it's all so clear cut or immediate or intentional in every respect. But the balancing act that Shays has played for years gets more difficult as the national politics grows more partisan and the House Republicans decline in popularity. And his own survival might depend heavily on being able to go into next year's election with a dynamite response to any opponent who tries to connect him to DeLay.

Bug man in winter? Hmmm, too much empathy. Twilight of the bug man? No. Bug man Agonistes? Definitely, not. Käfermanndämmerung? Bears more thought.

Late Update: TPM Readers chime in with their own headlines. The bug man goeth, says one regular. Hammerdämmerung, suggests TPM Reader AS.

Later Update: The Eugene O'Neill version of this farce might also be Long bug's journey into night.